My paternal grandfather, Michał Dańko, died in 1953. I never met him because he died before I was born. His wife, Marianna Dziurzyńska, died in 1969. We called her “Nanny”.
My maternal grandfather, Konstanty Niedziałkowski, died in 1978. We called him “Pa”. His wife, Helena Chmielewska, died in 1980. We called her “Ma”.
All were gone before I asked any of them a single question about their lives.
So, I’m inviting them all over for dinner. Nothing fancy. Perhaps a little kiełbasa, some pierogi, and maybe even a few gołąbki if I can find the time to make them.
I have my questions ready for them. I’ll try not to get too personal, and I suspect Ma will just answer all the questions with “What do you want to know that for? The past is dead!”.
- Where were you born? What was the countryside around your home like?
- Who were your parents? What did they look like?
- Who were your brothers and sisters? What were they like?
- What did your family do for entertainment?
- Where did you go to school? How many years of education did you receive?
- What games did you play when you were young?
- Did you work when you were young? What chores did you have?
- Where did you go to church? What was the church like? How did you feel about God?
Coming to America
- Why did you decide to come to America? How did you arrange your trip?
- How did you get from your home to the ship? What was the voyage like?
- What do you remember about Ellis Island?
- Where did you stay when you first arrived in America?
- Why did you settle in Worcester, Massachusetts?
- Did you have any friends or relatives in America when you immigrated? Did any friends or relatives come to America after you?
- Did you keep in touch with any family members after you arrived in America?
- In what social activities did you participate in America? Did you belong to any Polish groups?
- Was life in America what you thought it would be? Are you glad you came to this country?
Getting Married and Raising Children
- How did you meet your spouse? Tell me about the marriage proposal.
- Tell me about the births of your children. Were you ready to become parents when your first child was born?
- Did any of your children have any special talents? Were any of them troublemakers?
- Where did your children attend school?
- Where did you go to church? Were you active in any church groups?
- Where did you live in Worcester? What were these houses like?
- Where did you work? What were working conditions like? How much were you paid?
The World Wars
What thoughts went through your minds when World War I broke out? What about World War II?
Did you worry about your family back home? Did you hear anything about them during the wars?
How did you feel about your sons going to fight in World War II? What did your sons think about going to fight in the war?
Did you celebrate when the wars ended? How did you celebrate?
That’s probably more than enough for one evening.
After dinner, Pa will light up a cigar and relax. Ma will go to the kitchen, wash the dishes, and hum cheerfully as she does so. Nanny Dańko will probably sit down and enjoy watching Animal Planet or Dancing with the Stars on TV. I’m not sure what Grandfather Dańko will want to do.
And, as they leave at the end of the evening, Nanny Dańko will slip me a freshly washed and ironed one-dollar-bill. She always disliked dirty money.
Copyright © 2008 by Stephen J. Danko